Floods raise fears of more slips

The third weather bomb to hit the Nelson region in 2 years claimed a woman's life, wrecked an isolated salmon farm and caused slips and road closures in several parts of the Tasman district.

Not as big or damaging to property as April's flash flood or December 2011's protracted downpour, the weekend's deluge was the first to take a life.

It killed Marahau woman Jude Hivon when her home was flattened by a slip early yesterday afternoon. It also tore through Anatoki Salmon, the popular tourist attraction, destroying the main pond and wiping out years of work.

A dozen people living close to the Riwaka River were evacuated in the middle of last night when it was feared that the river would burst its banks.

Slips and fallen trees closed the roads on both banks of the Motueka River and the Peach Island community was cut off when floodwaters either took part of the bridge or washed away the approach on the island side.

Nelson largely escaped, apart from several slips on private land at the Glen. First reports also indicate that farmers and growers were not seriously affected.

But the Riwaka, Kaiteriteri and Marahau areas were all hit hard.

At 8am today regional Civil Defence group controller Jim Frater said the Motueka Valley, Marahau Hill, Riwaka Kaiteriteri and Kaiteriteri-Sandy Bay and Brooklyn valley roads were all closed, along with a number of secondary roads.

Tasman District Council and New Zealand Transport Authority contractors were out in force and progressively clearing the slips.

Civil Defence was in a monitoring role, Mr Frater said, with no special status declarations envisaged, but there was concern about further forecast rain.

He said the evacuations were made at the suggestion of police.

"They can't force them of course but not many people in the middle of the night would be concerned about protocol."

With further rain expected, the main fear was the potential for more slips in the already-affected areas, which comprise Separation Point granite, the same base that was devastated by the 2010 flooding in Golden Bay.

"It's the saturation that's our main concern," Mr Frater said. "Somebody explained it to me that with the Separation Point granite soils, they can soak up water for hundreds or thousands of years then all of a sudden they've had enough and they let it go.

"This slow steady rain that we've been getting is the same as we got in December 2011. It didn't hit the Kaiteri area very much back then, this time it got hit really hard."

TDC communications manager Chris Choatsaid this downpour, like the previous two, had very localised effects.

"The last event, Kaiteri and Riwaka escaped, this time it's gone and hit them quite badly."

Anatoki had suffered a month's rain in 20 hours, and the Motueka Valley was so badly hit that the contractors were using a digger at each end and working towards each other, "sort of like the Trans-Pacific Railway."

"These guys will work flat out to get access."

Mr Choat said the contractors and the council's staff would be assessing the risks for further problems as they cleared the roads, with further rain a concern.

He said the forecasters had been "spot on" for the weekend.

"Everything they said would happen, did happen - but in very localised areas."

Offering a view on the reasons for the three floods in such close proximity was "well beyond my pay scale", Mr Choat said, but the incredibly resilient population of the district was "beginning to look skywards" and respecting the forecasts. "It's one of the unique joys of living in the region - we get the extremes. We're the western-most point of the country and anything extreme that comes off the Tasman is likely to hit our front door first."

A full assessment of the damage would be done by the end of the day but it would be some time before the cost of repairs could be estimated.

Like police and Civil Defence, Mr Choat urged drivers to be aware of the road closures and the danger of further slips. "Slips don't keep to a timetable. These roads are going to be dodgy for a while. People need to be careful."

The Nelson Mail